Category Archives: Vaccines

A post filled with “Did You Knows” all about child and maternal health

When you learn you are pregnant, especially that first time, what is one of the first things you do?

I can tell you what I did. I turned to the internet for information and what site is a newly pregnant woman’s best friend other than Baby Center?

So now imagine your life without those weekly emails telling you that your baby is the size of a grapefruit or plum.

Imagine not only having no access to that information but imagine having no real access to any information at all because, well, you can’t read.

About two weeks ago, I spent a few days as a Fellow at the UN Foundation’s Shot@Life Social Good conference and honestly, I haven’t stopped thinking about all that I learned. I’m describing many women in Bangladesh in the above scenario. But that’s just one example of what we learned. The reality is, there are millions of women around the world with little to no access to factual medical information about their pregnancies or how to care for their babies but mobile phone technology, in particular, is changing that. Just as there are hundreds of thousands of children struggling to make it to their 5th birthdays without access to life-saving immunizations.

What’s remarkable is meeting and listening to just some of the people working hard to change all of the above.

First, with women. During the conference, we heard from Carla Koppell, who aside from having the title I totally covet, Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment at USAID, really enlightened us. She noted that child and maternal health is the biggest investment of USAID. #DidYouKnow?

Even further, despite the fact that Americans commonly believe that anywhere from 10-25% of the federal budget goes to foreign aid, really that amount hovers around a mere 1%.  Ms. Koppell went on to explain that robust economic growth in developing countries and women’s development go hand-in-hand. This should shock none of us – women’s empowerment is essential to the development of a community. Turns out that women in developing countries will reinvest up to 90% of their income back into their family and their community and for men – that figure is about 25%. And for every additional year a girl goes to school, she decreases her unwanted children by 2.2. We learned that women leaders can be our greatest advocates – again – is anyone shocked? Ms. Koppell gave an example of how women in parliament in Uganda blocked their country’s budget until health clinics were funded. Wouldn’t it be inspiring to see the women in Congress this year band together to block something that benefits women and children?

And further, she drove home a critically important point – one that I believe is just as true in the United States as it is anywhere else – that gender equality must also address men and boys. For example, boys are falling behind in education in Latin America, which increases their chances of violence.

Another fun fact – this one from Victoria Esser of the State Department….the State Department tweets in 11 different languages. That is just cool.

Photo Credit: Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action

One of my favorite speakers was Kirsten Gagnaire, Global Director of the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA).  MAMA is a private-public funded organization and one of their slogans is “Mobile Messages put the power of health in every MAMA’s hand.”

#DidYouKnow that mobile technology is educating women around the world?

Essentially, MAMA recognized, in part under the leadership of former Secretary Hillary Clinton, that approximately 1 billion women in low and middle-income countries own mobile phones. And if a pregnant woman herself doesn’t have access to a phone, someone she knows does, be it her husband, her mother-in-law, etc. Add to that these  facts about the prevalence of mobile phones:  every day there are 1,000 women that do not survive child-birth or pregnancy, 2 out of every 5 children die during the first month of life. And about 21 children each minute die every day mainly from preventable causes.


So enter MAMA – this organization is empowering women to make health decisions for themselves and their babies through mobile phone messages. Instead of logging on to their email accounts and receiving the weekly Baby Center update, these women can receive voice messages via cell phone. In the specific example of Bangladesh – not only did MAMA learn they need to develop voice messages for the pregnant women but they needed to respect the culture and also develop messages for husbands and mothers-in-law.

Stop for a minute.

Can you imagine that one? Relying upon only your mother-in-law to receive factual information about your pregnancy?

I’ll let you think about that for a minute. I had a few days to mull that one over. Frankly I still haven’t let it go.

Ms. Gagnaire showed us this short two-minute video of how mobile messages have women in Bangladesh and I highly recommend viewing it just for some perspective. The woman featured is a loving mother just like any of us – except she is hungry to learn – and is just now getting access to real information. Until she started receiving these messages, she didn’t know that it’s good for her baby starting around 3 months for her to make eye contact with the baby. These are women who aren’t fretting about whether they are helicopter parents or if their baby will get into your top choice preschool or adjust well to a big-girl bed – they are just trying to get through the day and keep everyone alive and healthy.


Ms. Gagnaire opened her talk with noting that in many countries, information on pregnancy and motherhood is based on myths.

Photo Credit: Shot@Life

Now let’s shift gears to the kids. What I have long admired about the UN Foundation’s Shot@Life campaign is that motivating others to advocate and donate on behalf of immunizing children not only saves a child’s life but it also saves a mother – none of us want to even consider a world without our kids in it. #DidYouKnow that according to Shot@Life, some moms walk as far as 15-miles to reach life-saving vaccines for their kids? Two of the most common causes of child death – pneumonia and diarrhea – can be largely prevented by existing vaccines. Expanding access to vaccines can prevent an additional 1.5 million deaths each year.  You can participate by being an advocate, emailing your Member of Congress, or just donating a small amount — the Shot@Life campaign makes it so easy, just click here.

Photo Credit: Hope Phones

Finally — I have barely covered the surface of all that we learned during this conference – but I wanted to leave you with one more thing. If you are at all interested in the power of how mobile phones are transforming access to health overseas, then you can help too by donating your old phones to Hope Phones. This charity was founded by an enterprising man who as a young college student realized that mobile phones are helping people in the developing world.  You can print a mailing label from your own home, mail in your old phone at no cost to you, then Hope Phones ensures it is recycled properly and then transfers the value of the parts of your recycled phone into funds to provide health workers in communities overseas with phones. From the Hope Phones site: if we can recycle just 1% of disposed phones each year, we can outfit 1 million health workers, improving the lives of 50 million people.

I hope you found today’s “Did You Know” themed post interesting and informative. Please keep these organizations in mind when you consider donating to a good cause. And as always, I’d love for you to “Like” the Wired  Momma Facebook page.

What’s your milestone wish for a child?

Did you know 1 in 5 children around the world doesn’t have access to the vaccines they need to survive? That a child

This is the mom who walked 15 miles to vaccinate her child. Photo Credit: UN Foundation Shot@Life

dies every 20 seconds in developing countries from preventable disease? And that some moms walk 15 miles to reach life-saving vaccines for their children? According to a UN Foundation spokeswoman, Devi Thomas, one woman in Mozambique was willing to walk this distance with her baby strapped to her back because she’d already lost 2 children from preventable disease.

This week is World Immunization Week and to kick the week off, I was so honored to co-host a UN Foundation Shot@Life event on Friday night at the Dolci Gelati factory in Washington. Anastasia Dellaccio owns Dolci Gelati with her husband (who not only makes amazing gelato but also some exquisite deserts) and she works for the UN Foundation and their Shot@Life campaign. The UN Foundation’s goal is to mobilize Americans around their efforts to vaccinate children around the world and give these kids a shot at more firsts: first birthdays, first tooth, first day of school. You name it, these kids deserve it, and their parents long to watch these milestones just like we do.  It’s remarkable to think that by donating just $20, you can protect a child for life with four vaccines to fight measles, diarrhea, polio and pneumonia.

I find it impossible to talk about this issue without recognizing that vaccination rates in some parts of this country are dropping. Just last week, we heard from the CDC that we saw more measles outbreaks in the United States last year than we had in 15 years. Not vaccinating children flies in the face of common sense and frankly, makes a mockery of the luxury of privilege and the access we do have here in this country. I think, in part, so many parents forgo the chance to immunize their child because they haven’t seen real poverty and they haven’t seen what horror these preventable illness can bring to the lives of children.

I haven’t witnessed what polio does to a child, for example, but I have seen real poverty. My dad was a US diplomat for almost 40 years, so we moved every 2-3 years of my life. Sometimes I now worry that the coolest part of my life happened when I was a kid but at least I had that chance. We landed in Jakarta Indonesia on a hot August night when I was 12 years old. Until that point, I had never experienced culture shock. Walking out of the airport into the heavy humidity that first night and inhaling the smells of Jakarta for the first time, which in the 80s was largely a mix of sewage and clove cigarettes, I was standing face-to-face with culture shock. Never will I forget that drive from the airport to our new home; I had never before seen so many people – everywhere – squatting on the side of the road, smoking, chatting, little children barefoot running around, and huge open sewers. Mopeds with 6 people raced past, buses overcrowded, small huts meant to be homes cluttering side of the road, with only the open sewers in between.

An image like this makes a strong impression on a 12-year-old. As I would imagine it does to an adult seeing it for the first time. The cat-sized rat who trotted across our driveway as we pulled up is also pretty unforgettable.

What’s my point?

When you see real poverty, when you see people who have nothing, you don’t forget how lucky we are here to have access to what we need, when we need it. So I ask you to join this amazing effort and help give a child a shot at life, at more milestones. The UN Foundation’s goal for World Immunization Week is to raise enough money to vaccinate 1,000 children.

During Friday’s event, my sister, who runs a boutique video and editing company, Born Lucky Studios, donated her time, talent and equipment to video each of us and what kind of first milestone we wish for other children to reach. Hearing everyone’s milestone wishes was a real highlight of the evening for me, which says a lot considering there were gallons of delicious gelato and yummy champagne all over the Dolci Gelati headquarters. Every mom in the room had a distinct reason for the milestone they chose because each of these milestones are something we’ve relished witnessing our children reach. These are things we never take for granted. Here’s a look at mine:

So please, I hope you’ll consider joining me, and if not this week, then for Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, because I believe the UN Foundation’s campaign is as much about mothers and fathers as it is about children. As the UN Foundation pointed out, $20 protects a child for a life from four diseases, or equals about 3 big boxes of Crayons or 4 tubs of baby wipes. Online donations are simple and quick! And I’d love to hear what your milestones wish is!

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On Vaccinating Kids

Beautiful girl just got vaccinated thanks to the campaign. Photo Credit: UN Foundation

Earlier this week, I wrote a new piece for Huffington Post. In it, I explored how 99% of the children in Honduras are vaccinated, despite all the odds. Meanwhile here in the United States, we have a vaccination rate of 93%. It is remarkable to me that despite all the science and medicine pointing to the safety and importance of vaccinating our kids, people still choose to opt out. I”m not sure if it’s as much a true fear of what the vaccines might do to their kids or is it this: relying on herd immunity. In other words, if everyone else is vaccinating their kids, then your kid is safe and you can dismiss the vaccines and any apparent risk it might pose to them because other people’s vaccinated kids will keep your kid disease free. I think the recent outbreak of measles in Indiana from 2 unvaccinated kids at the Super Bowl tells us that herd immunity thinking doesn’t work.

Last month, I was lucky enough to attend a Shot@Life conference hosted by the UN Foundation.  If you’re not familiar with the Foundation’s newest campaign, it is themed around this basic idea that all children deserve a chance to reach milestones that we take for granted here in the United States,  like learning to crawl, walk or have a first day of school. But in developing countries, where a child dies every 20 seconds from a preventable disease, mothers never take for granted or assume their children will reach these milestones. A team from the UN Foundation traveled to Honduras last month to learn more about how the country is so effectively immunizing its children and I am excited to offer you this inside glimpse from the UN team about their trip. 

In the meantime, I hope you’ll read my piece, share, or comment.  Every kid deserves a chance to reach their milestones.

Get over it, Antivaccinationists

You might love being home full-time. You  might judge stay-at-home moms. You might have a family bed, you might think family beds and co-sleeping is a disastrous and idiotic idea. You might be pro-Tiger parenting. You might be anti-Tiger parenting. Hell, you might be pro-swinging, you might be anti-swinging. I will take all of you. Let’s debate.

But if you are anti-vaccinations for kids, then I think you are uneducated, unwilling to listen to reason and totally willing to needlessly put your kid in harm’s way.  Certainly there was a loud thank-you ricocheting across the country when the news finally came out a few weeks ago that all that talk about vaccinations leading to autism proved to be a wasted research investment and not a statistically significant study. Let alone:  True.  Was anyone else wondering why, once again, the media were just sad lemmings, feeding the story, feeding the fear, feeding the hype and never bothering to actively participate in thorough investigative journalism and actually learn the flaws in the research that one with basic statistical understanding would realize?

It was never an issue in our house whether or not we would vaccinate our kids. It was a no brainer. Then when our eldest was almost two, she fell seriously ill, she was hospitalized, and it took the docs many days to determine the cause. As it turned out, she had a bacterial infection in her bloodstream. After the horrible rollercoaster ride of being told her white blood cell count was “not quite leukemia high but go to the ER immediately,” watching them probe her, watching her misery, and listening to the doctors try to determine what to do next, we were so relieved to have her recover. And then the doctor said “Without vaccines, this might have taken her life.”

Since then, I’ve wanted to actually punch in the face anyone who mouths off against childhood vaccinations.

Imagine my pure pleasure when a friend posted the link to the reputable, science-based New England Journal of Medicine piece basically trashing the anti-vaccinationists out there and the fear they spew.

Way to go NEJM:

“We believe that antivaccinationists have done significant harm to the public health. Ultimately, society must recognize that science is not a democracy in which the side with the most votes or the loudest voices gets to decide what is right.”